Influence: Two nurses tell their stories of their deployment to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria


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Every day in VA hospitals nationwide, nurses dedicate themselves to help patients reclaim their lives. What they do is more than a career, it’s a calling to restore hope and bring healing to Veterans and their families. Nurses’ strength, skill and compassion lie at the core of VA’s high-quality standard of care. This Nurses Week, we are sharing VA nursing stories that embody inspiration, innovation and influence. Be sure to check back in for a new story every day the week of May 6-12th and share your favorite VA nurse memory in the comments section.

1. Joe Pena, LPN, Inpatient Mental Health Unit (MHU)

Last year I had the opportunity to deploy as a volunteer to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. I was deployed for ten days and had one of the best experiences of my life. I was assigned to the Inpatient Mental Health Unit at the San Juan, Caribbean Veterans Hospital, where I was able to help Puerto Rican Veterans and relieve fellow nurses who needed to take care of their family or living circumstances.
I never imagined that in my career, I would be able to so fully utilize my scope of practice and my native language abilities. During the mission to Puerto Rico, I was able to provide one hundred percent of the care I delivered in Spanish, which was invaluable to the Veterans and members of the interdisciplinary team. Having the opportunity to offer a shoulder to lean on and a listening ear for my Veterans and peers will forever stay with me.

Providing care for the citizens of Puerto Rico and for my fellow nurses is definitely one of my proudest moments that I have had in my career.

2. Shannon Smith RN, Medical/Telemetry Inpatient Unit – Albany Stratton VA Medical Center in Albany, NY, and a member of the DEMPS team

I recently had the honor of being deployed to Puerto Rico to assist with the disaster relief along with other DEMPS members from across the country. I was notified and within 24 hours, was on the plane, prepared to work in austere conditions at the Caribbean VA in San Juan.

Assigned to the VA on a med/surge/telemetry unit and floated to the ER and other units as needed to assist with staffing, I quickly put in 14+ hours days at the hospital for 12 days. The destruction the island faced, weeks after Hurricane Maria, was evident during the 1 ½ hour travel to and from the hospital. Most of the island was still without power and water. This despair was further compounded with the housing issues, heat and humidity, and a lack of supplies.

The staff members at VA were committed to making sure that when the Veterans were in the hospital, there was a sense of normalcy. It was humbling to work side by side with the staff at the facility who were also affected by Maria and who had such a positive outlook that they kept thanking us for coming and helping them and were concerned if we needed anything.

it’s hard to put into words exactly how being part of the relief efforts touched me. There was a feeling in Puerto Rico of pride and resilience, of fulfillment and helping others as being unparalleled. I met amazing Veterans and staff who shared their stories and reminded me of what it means to be thankful for what you have. I would like to thank my co-workers and managers who supported me and picked up extra shifts while I was gone. People from VA Hospitals across the country came together to work toward one common goal of helping Puerto Rico.

I left part of my heart in Puerto Rico and took part of Puerto Rico’s with me.

Author

VA Careers

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